The alt text is not a file name so you write it as a normal sentence. A middle-aged woman chopping vegetables in her kitchen, highlighting healthy meal preparation for weight loss

My Best Tips for Exactly How to Lose 20 Pounds

by JJ Virgin on June 11, 2024

The key to successful weight loss isn’t the number on your bathroom scale; it’s about becoming metabolically healthy. 

Think of metabolic health like a big, intricate puzzle. Each piece represents something different about your body, like how much muscle you have, where you’re carrying extra fat, how your blood sugar behaves, and other things like inflammation levels. These factors show how well your body’s metabolism handles and burns fat.

Working with thousands of women over four decades has taught me a lot about fixing your metabolism for fast, lasting fat loss, whether your goal is losing 20 pounds or otherwise. Here’s everything I’ve learned to help fast-track your results.

Get Healthy to Lose Weight (Not the Other Way Around)

The journey to weight loss might seem like a path to becoming healthier, but the truth is that you need to focus on becoming healthy first to lose weight effectively. 

A few years ago, researchers examined Americans’ metabolic health. They looked at various factors, including body fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol. The results were alarming: only 6.8% of Americans are metabolically healthy.1 

Metabolic health becomes especially vital during menopause. This transitional phase triggers hormonal shifts that profoundly influence metabolic processes. Menopause can disrupt insulin sensitivity, how you process hunger cues, and how your thyroid functions.2 Focusing on these critical elements sets the stage for fat loss and overall health at any time in your life. 

Setting Weight-Loss Goals

The first step towards achieving fat loss and promoting a healthy metabolism is setting clear goals. If you can measure it, you can manage it. The right tools can help you set realistic targets, reduce fat, build muscle, and pave the way for sustainable health and wellness. 

Define Your Targets

Be specific about what you want to achieve. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight,” specify how much you want to lose and what body composition you want to aim for. Remember, you want to reduce body fat and increase muscle mass. To do that, ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (aka SMART). For example, “I want to lose 10 pounds of body fat and decrease my body-fat percentage by 5% in the next three months.” 

For some perspective, you can realistically lose up to two pounds of fat per week, and gain one to two pounds of muscle per month.

Be flexible and willing to adjust your goals and plan as necessary. If you’re not seeing the desired results or are encountering obstacles, reassess your approach and make changes accordingly. Keep yourself motivated by focusing on the benefits of achieving your goals, celebrating small victories along the way, and seeking support from friends, family, or online communities with similar goals. 

Use a Body-Composition Scale

Understanding the balance of fat and muscle in your body is essential. You’ll especially want to reduce visceral adipose tissue (VAT), a dangerous type of fat that accumulates around your organs and impacts metabolic health.3 

Invest in a bioimpedance scale to track your weight and body-composition measurements accurately. Body-composition scales are innovative tools that go beyond traditional scales by providing detailed insights into your body’s makeup—because you don’t just want to know your weight, but you also want to know what it’s made up of.

These scales measure fat mass, muscle mass, water percentage, and sometimes even bone density. They utilize bioelectrical impedance analysis to estimate these components. With this information, you can effectively tailor your fitness and nutrition plans, especially when optimizing your metabolism. 

Track Macronutrient Intake

An app like Cronometer can monitor your daily protein, fat, carbohydrate, and water intake. Use the data from the tracking app to adjust your diet as necessary. If you’re not meeting your macronutrient targets or experiencing issues with energy levels, satiety, or performance, tweak your meal plan accordingly. Over time, you’ll develop a better understanding of how different foods impact your body and can make more informed choices.

Consider a DEXA Scan

A DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan can be invaluable for an in-depth analysis of your body composition. It delivers precise body-fat percentage, muscle mass, and bone-density measurements, offering a comprehensive view of your health and weight-loss progress.

Designing a Meal Plan to Burn Fat

After defining your goals and monitoring progress, crafting a meal plan for fat-burning while preserving or building muscle demands a strategic approach to food selection and timing. 

Here’s a guide to structuring your diet to accomplish these objectives.

Eat Protein First

Start every meal with 30-50 grams of protein. Increasing protein intake helps build and maintain muscle, preventing age-related muscle loss. Protein also boosts your metabolic rate and keeps you feeling full longer.5 

Many women get significant results by simply upping their protein intake without making other dietary changes. One 12-week study compared the effects of high-protein and standard-protein diets for women with normal body weight but a high percentage of body fat and low muscle mass (a condition called normal-weight obesity).

In the high-protein group, women ate 25% of their total energy intake from protein, while in the standard-protein group, 15% came from protein. The high-protein group was the winner: compared to the standard protein group, it showed increased lean body mass and decreased fat mass, body-fat percentage, and waist circumference.6 

Choose Carbohydrates Wisely

Low-glycemic, high-fiber carbs provide sustained energy release, keeping blood-sugar levels stable. Fiber also keeps you fuller longer.7 Here’s how to approach your carb intake with meals:

  • Eat 2+ servings of non-starchy veggies at every meal. Leafy and cruciferous veggies provide nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber for few calories. These are truly unlimited foods.
  • Choose 0-2 servings of slow-digesting, low-glycemic carbohydrates (or what I call slow low carbs) per meal. Every serving should be about 100 calories. These carbs gradually release sugar into the bloodstream, helping maintain steady energy levels and reducing cravings.
  • Have no more than 2 servings of fruit daily (every serving will be about 100 calories) to control sugar intake while benefiting from the vitamins, minerals, and fiber fruits provide. 

Incorporate Healthy Fats

Healthy fats do more than keep you satiated. They help make and regulate hormones, including those involved in metabolism, such as insulin. Balanced hormone levels are critical for maintaining a healthy metabolic rate. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble, meaning they require dietary fat for absorption. These vitamins play various roles in metabolism, from supporting immune function to regulating calcium levels.8, 9 

Smart sources include avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil. Aim for 2-4 servings of healthy fats per meal.

Maintaining Steady Blood-Sugar Levels

Stable blood-sugar levels help regulate appetite and reduce the likelihood of overeating. They also prevent energy spikes and crashes, providing a steady fuel source for metabolism without disruptions. 

Consistently high blood-sugar levels, on the other hand, can lead to insulin resistance, impairing your body’s ability to use glucose for energy efficiently. Fluctuations in blood sugar can disrupt hormone levels, including those involved in metabolism and fat storage.10 

Aiming for 50 grams of fiber daily helps maintain steady blood sugar consistently and offers other benefits, including gut health and appetite management.11 (Do make sure to increase your fiber slowly to avoid GI distress.) 

A few well-selected additions, like apple cider vinegar and green tea, can also help maintain blood-sugar stability.12, 13

Use Caffeine Smartly

Thermogenesis is how your body generates heat, increasing metabolic rate and calorie burning.14 Caffeine, a natural stimulant in coffee (and, to a lesser degree, in green tea), can enhance this process, making it an effective aid in boosting fat burning. 

If you’re sensitive to caffeine, consider half-regular, half-decaf coffee for your morning brew. 

Limit Alcohol Consumption

When you drink alcohol, your body prioritizes metabolizing it over other nutrients, slowing fat burning. More specifically, hindering your liver’s ability to metabolize fats efficiently can lead to fat accumulation, especially in the abdominal area. 

Alcohol consumption can disrupt hormone levels, including those involved in metabolism and appetite regulation.15 If you imbibe, have a glass of quality, low-sugar red wine with your meal. For women, a standard serving size is about 5 oz.

Address Food Intolerances

Be mindful of how your body reacts to certain foods. Food intolerances are adverse reactions to certain foods or components, such as gluten and soy. They occur when your body has difficulty digesting or processing them. Your body may lack specific enzymes or mechanisms to properly break down or absorb certain foods, leading to inflammation and other symptoms that can stall your progress.16  

Eliminating or reducing foods that don’t agree with you can improve your overall health and aid in fat loss. 

In The Virgin Diet, I identify the top seven foods most likely to hurt your metabolism and create weight-loss resistance.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water does more than prevent dehydration—it also helps to keep you full, supports metabolic functions, and can even increase calorie burning.17 A basic rule for determining how much water you should drink daily is to consume an amount equivalent to half of your body weight in ounces.18 For instance, a person weighing 160 lbs should strive to drink at least 80 oz of water each day. Tailor this recommendation based on individual hydration needs and environmental factors.

When you engage in physical activity, your need for water increases. The intensity and length of your workout are crucial in determining how much extra water you should consume. A practical approach is to increase your water intake by approximately ½ to 1 oz for every minute you exercise. This adjustment is crucial for offsetting the loss of fluids through sweat, ensuring you remain well-hydrated for optimal athletic performance and recovery.

This handy tracker shows you how much water you need daily. 

Other Strategies for Improving Metabolic Health

You can incorporate all these dietary principles when you eat by the plate. Start each meal with protein. Second, focus on leafy and cruciferous non-starchy veggies. Then, ensure you get the right healthy fats, fiber, and slow low carbs. Beyond what goes on your plate, these strategies can boost your metabolic health, leading to more effective fat loss and improved overall wellness:

  • Cut out harmful ingredients: Say goodbye to fructose, processed foods, and damaged oils, including vegetable oils. These culprits can sabotage your blood-sugar levels and increase inflammation.19, 20 
  • Manage stress: High stress levels can elevate cortisol, increasing your appetite and visceral fat and wrecking your metabolism.21 Find effective stress-management techniques such as meditation and emotional freedom technique (EFT) or tapping.
  • Improve sleep quality: A good night’s sleep isn’t just about feeling rested; it also includes better metabolic health. That includes balancing hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which are crucial for regulating appetite and feeling full.22 
  • Move more: Incorporate resistance training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your routine. These forms of exercise increase muscle mass and metabolic rate. As a result, you burn calories even at rest while improving how well your body uses glucose for fuel.23, 24

My FREE Resistance Training Cheat Sheet provides everything you need for your fitness journey, including home gym essentials, an eight-week workout plan, and a progress tracker to track your sets, reps, and weights with each workout. 

  • Take a post-meal walk: A simple walk after meals can significantly enhance insulin sensitivity and help muscle cells use up glucose, reducing blood-sugar spikes. This activity also promotes how well your body breaks down fat, supporting fat loss and metabolic health.25
  • Balance sex hormones: Keeping hormones like estrogen and progesterone in balance helps manage your appetite, metabolism, and fat distribution, especially during menopause. These hormonal adjustments help manage weight and overall metabolic health during this significant transition phase.26
  • Limit toxin exposure: Toxins are everywhere, including the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink, and many household products and cosmetics. Some toxins are called obesogens because they can disrupt the endocrine system and metabolism, leading to weight gain and obesity.27 Reducing exposure to toxins helps minimize inflammation and free-radical damage, which can impair metabolic functions and how you break down or store fat. Supporting your liver’s detoxification pathways also aids in eliminating toxins that can interfere with metabolism.
  • Optimize gut health: A healthy gut microbiome enhances the production of hormones that influence appetite, satiety, and how efficiently your body uses energy, facilitating fat loss.28 When those trillions of gut organisms fall out of balance, your metabolism can suffer, and fat loss stalls.29  

Get the Right Metabolism-Supporting Nutrients

Integrating metabolism-supporting nutrients into your plan can significantly enhance your metabolic health, aiding in weight management and overall wellness. Here’s how various supplements can play a part:

Multivitamin-Mineral

Research shows that we get fewer critical vitamins and minerals from food today due to numerous factors, including changes to the soil where our food is grown, stress, medications, and more.30 A multivitamin-mineral or multi ensures your body receives the essential vitamins and minerals for metabolic processes and overall health. A high-potency multi helps bridge nutritional gaps in your diet, promoting optimal metabolism and energy levels.31 

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught fish offer anti-inflammatory properties. They can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the chronic inflammation that stalls fat loss, and help regulate your appetite.32 Most of us don’t regularly eat fish, making a high-quality supplement rich in the omega-3s EPA and DHA critical.

Creatine

Creatine, a compound stored in the muscles and used as a quick energy source during high-intensity exercise, can enhance muscle strength and performance during resistance training. This increased performance boosts calorie expenditure and supports muscle protein synthesis and recovery. By preserving muscle mass, creatine helps you lose fat and improve your metabolism.33 A micronized creatine supplement, which mixes easily into water or a loaded smoothie, is an easy way to get this multitasking compound.

Protein Powder

Protein powder provides a convenient and effective way to increase your protein intake. Protein is vital for muscle growth and recovery and for enhancing your metabolism. It also helps you manage hunger.34 Look for a quality protein powder with at least 20 grams of protein in every serving and no potential food intolerances like soy or gluten. 

Digestive Enzymes

Getting optimal protein is only half the battle. How your body breaks down and absorbs that protein is also important. A comprehensive digestive enzyme can help. These enzymes facilitate the breakdown and absorption of protein and other nutrients, ensuring optimal digestion. They can help alleviate digestive issues such as discomfort and bloating, supporting gut health and metabolic function.35

Choose a comprehensive digestive enzyme supplement that includes enzymes that break down carbs, protein, and fat, betaine HCl (for additional protein-breakdown support), and enzymes that can help break down hard-to-digest proteins in foods like dairy. 

The Solution for Meeting Your Goal Weight

Prioritizing protein in your meals can be a game-changer for enhancing your metabolism and helping you meet your fat-loss goals. To do that, you’ll aim for 30-50g of protein at every meal.

My 7-Day Eat Protein First Challenge is the perfect way to meet your protein goals, whether you’re working on getting more protein or want to uplevel your current plan. It includes a protein calculator, which helps you know precisely how much protein you get at every meal. I’ve also included a guide with tips and tricks and a protein-first meal plan to meet your protein goals, burn fat, build muscle, and support the foundation for a healthy metabolism. 

Get 7-Day Eat Protein First Challenge FREE here.

References:

  1. O’Hearn M, Lauren BN, Wong JB, Kim DD, Mozaffarian D. Trends and Disparities in Cardiometabolic Health Among U.S. Adults, 1999-2018. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2022 Jul 12;80(2):138-151. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2022.04.046. PMID: 35798448; PMCID: PMC10475326.
  2. Chopra S, Sharma KA, Ranjan P, Malhotra A, Vikram NK, Kumari A. Weight Management Module for Perimenopausal Women: A Practical Guide for Gynecologists. J Midlife Health. 2019 Oct-Dec;10(4):165-172. doi: 10.4103/jmh.JMH_155_19. PMID: 31942151; PMCID: PMC6947726.
  3. Cleveland Clinic: Adipose Tissue (Body Fat): Anatomy & Function
  4. UC Davis Health: DAX body composition analysis | Sports Medicine
  5. Healthline: 10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein
  6. Haghighat N, Ashtary-Larky D, Bagheri R, Mahmoodi M, Rajaei M, Alipour M, Kooti W, Aghamohammdi V, Wong A. The effect of 12 weeks of euenergetic high-protein diet in regulating appetite and body composition of women with normal-weight obesity: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2020 Nov 28;124(10):1044-1051. doi: 10.1017/S0007114520002019. Epub 2020 Jun 9. Erratum in: Br J Nutr. 2021 Sep 28;126(6):959. PMID: 32513334.
  7. Better Health Channel: Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index
  8. Liu AG, Ford NA, Hu FB, Zelman KM, Mozaffarian D, Kris-Etherton PM. A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J. 2017 Aug 30;16(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4. PMID: 28854932; PMCID: PMC5577766.
  9. Learn Genetics Utah: The Friendly Side of Fat
  10. Veri: 8 Benefits of Stabilizing Your Blood Sugar
  11. Mayo Clinic: Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet
  12. WebMD: Apple Cider Vinegar: Benefits, Uses, Risks, and Dosage
  13. Liu K, Zhou R, Wang B, Chen K, Shi LY, Zhu JD, Mi MT. Effect of green tea on glucose control and insulin sensitivity: a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;98(2):340-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.052746. Epub 2013 Jun 26. PMID: 23803878.
  14. Science Direct: Thermogenesis – an overview
  15. Cederbaum AI. Alcohol metabolism. Clin Liver Dis. 2012 Nov;16(4):667-85. doi: 10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002. PMID: 23101976; PMCID: PMC3484320.
  16. Cleveland Clinic: Food Intolerance: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options
  17. Healthline: Can Drinking More Water Help You Lose Weight?
  18. University of Missouri System: How to calculate how much water you should drink
  19. DiNicolantonio JJ, Mehta V, Onkaramurthy N, O’Keefe JH. Fructose-induced inflammation and increased cortisol: A new mechanism for how sugar induces visceral adiposity. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2018 May-Jun;61(1):3-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2017.12.001. Epub 2017 Dec 8. PMID: 29225114.
  20. Fritsche KL. Linoleic acid, vegetable oils & inflammation. Mo Med. 2014 Jan-Feb;111(1):41-3. PMID: 24645297; PMCID: PMC6179509.
  21. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: Can Stress Make You Gain Weight?
  22. Papatriantafyllou E, Efthymiou D, Zoumbaneas E, Popescu CA, Vassilopoulou E. Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 8;14(8):1549. doi: 10.3390/nu14081549. PMID: 35458110; PMCID: PMC9031614.
  23. McPherron AC, Guo T, Bond ND, Gavrilova O. Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte. 2013 Apr 1;2(2):92-8. doi: 10.4161/adip.22500. PMID: 23805405; PMCID: PMC3661116.
  24. Healthline: 7 Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
  25. Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: How Walking After Eating Impacts Your Blood Sugar
  26. University Hospitals: The Connection Between Menopause & Belly Fat
  27. Healthline: What Are Obesogens, and Should We Be Concerned?
  28. Noor J, Chaudhry A, Batool S, Noor R, Fatima G. Exploring the Impact of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity and Weight Loss: A Review Article. Cureus. 2023 Jun 25;15(6):e40948. doi: 10.7759/cureus.40948. PMID: 37503494; PMCID: PMC10368799.
  29. Breton J, Galmiche M, Déchelotte P. Dysbiotic Gut Bacteria in Obesity: An Overview of the Metabolic Mechanisms and Therapeutic Perspectives of Next-Generation Probiotics. Microorganisms. 2022 Feb 16;10(2):452. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms10020452. PMID: 35208906; PMCID: PMC8877435.
  30. Scientific American: Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?
  31. Forbes: I’m A Nutrition Scientist—Here’s Why I Take A Multivitamin
  32. Albracht-Schulte K, Kalupahana NS, Ramalingam L, Wang S, Rahman SM, Robert-McComb J, Moustaid-Moussa N. Omega-3 fatty acids in obesity and metabolic syndrome: a mechanistic update. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Aug;58:1-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.02.012. Epub 2018 Feb 27. PMID: 29621669; PMCID: PMC7561009.
  33. Healthline: Creatine 101: What Is It and What Does It Do?
  34. Medical News Today: Health benefits of protein powder
  35. Ianiro G, Pecere S, Giorgio V, Gasbarrini A, Cammarota G. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(2):187-93. doi: 10.2174/138920021702160114150137. PMID: 26806042; PMCID: PMC4923703. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern.